By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Guam senators have joined congressional leaders in pressing the Biden administration into accelerating the renegotiations of the Compacts of Free Association with Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.
While Guam has no seat at the negotiating table, the senators reminded the federal government that the territory has a stake in the process, noting that the treaties with the freely associated states impose economic burden on the territorial government.
“The strong regional partnerships Guam has with the compact states are vital to strengthening the local economy beyond this pandemic; however, we cannot deny that our local services and infrastructure have been overwhelmed by this unrestricted migration,” said Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, chair of the federal and regional affairs committee.
According to the Public Policy Institute’s 2019 report, Guam incurred $1 billion between 2009 and 2017 for hosting the FAS migrants. During the same period, Guam received $143 million in Compact impact grants.
Under the compacts, citizens of Palau, Marshall Islands and FSM are granted visa-free entry into any U.S. jurisdiction. FAS governments receive U.S. grants and other socio-economic programs in exchange for the military’s use of their land, air and water resources.
While the compacts are permanent, their funding and economic provisions are expiring in 2003 for Marshall Islands and FSM, and 2024 for Palau.
“To date, however, there has been no clear public signal from the Biden administration to extend the Compacts beyond 2023,” Muna-Barnes said in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
“This is concerning for a number of reasons, to include the strategic advantage the U.S. maintains in the Pacific, the ongoing security of the Pacific region, and the ongoing shortfall of funding set aside to mitigate and address issues that have arisen due to the free migration provisions of the Compact on U.S. jurisdictions, Guam most especially,” read the letter, which was consigned by Sens. Telena Nelson and Mary Torres.
“As elected officials, we need to roll up our sleeves and begin an important dialogue on how to address these issues. We can’t kick the can down the road and hope for something new to happen.” Nelson said. “With Guam's strategic role in the defense of the nation, we are asking as a government body to be apprised of the information that will impact our island and our people and the Pacific region."
“By improving funding for local services and programs, compact renegotiations can help ensure that residency is both productive and fulfilling for COFA migrants and the community,” Torres said.
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Guam receives the lion’s share of the annual $34 million in mandatory and discretionary Compact Impact funding divided among four jurisdictions. Guam gets $16.8 million; Hawaii receives $14.8 million; CNMI, $2.2 million and American Samoa, $22,000.
In an interview last year, former Interior Secretary Doug Domenech acknowledged that the compact impact funds provided to host jurisdictions were insufficient to cover the cost of hosting FAS migrants. “We don’t question the numbers, but of course, Congress doesn’t give us that amount. We provide the money that Congress provides to us.”
Domenech clarified that that scope of discussions was pretty much limited to “the expiring provisions of the compacts,” but the compact impact funding for host jurisdictions required a separate action by Congress.